CAO: Four things you need to know before accepting an offer

Grades are up significantly this year, so expect increased points for many programmes

About 20,000 applicants did the Leaving Cert last year or earlier

About 20,000 applicants did the Leaving Cert last year or earlier


This afternoon at 2pm, thousands of college applicants will log into their individual CAO accounts online to see what third-level courses they are being offered.

We know that grades are up significantly this year, so expect this to translate into increased points for many programmes. Unfortunately, this means many students will miss out on their first choice.

This will be very hard for the class of 2020 who have gone through so much – but even more so for deferred applicants.

About 20,000 applicants did the Leaving Cert last year or earlier. While several thousand of these applicants may have received an offer from the CAO in July or early August, many are hoping grade inflation will not send their course choices out of their reach.

Whatever your situation, there are few key things you should bear in mind when the offers are issued:

1. Do nothing – at first
It might count counter-intuitive, but if you receive an offer this afternoon, the most important thing to do is to do nothing. You have until 3pm next Wednesday, September 16th to accept your offer online.

If you receive the first choice on your list of courses, then you will not receive any other offer, unless of course you amend your existing list by adding one of the “available places” listed on the CAO website.

If you receive an offer of one of your lower preference programme you may receive a higher course on your list if sufficient applicants don’t accept the place offered to them today. But there is no certainty that this will happen.

2. If you want to defer, act fast
Nobody knows how many potential students will baulk at the prospect of a largely online delivery of their course in 2020-2021, with very limited opportunity to participate in the clubs and societies, and normal social activities.

If many of those receiving offers today walk away or seek to defer their place until next year, then far more places than usual will be offered on lower CAO points in the second round of offers next week.

Those seeking a deferred place should write or email today to the registration office of the college making the offer. If too many applicants seek this option, it is expected that colleges will refuse to defer places, as to approve them would eat into the places available for next year’s applicants.

That will not block applicants walking away from their offer and taking their chances by applying to the CAO anew after the process opens for next year in November – but this is risky and nothing is guaranteed.

3. Do some last-minute research
The most important thing every applicant who receives an offer today should do is to research the programme on the or the college’s website.

This research will ensure that you know exactly what it is you are signing up for.

This process may save you a lot of pain and expense if you accept the course and then drop out in the coming year.

4. Check out other options
If you do not receive a suitable offer today, you have a wide range of options to move forward on your career journey. Further Education programmes offered through your local ETB college might well secure you your dream course in 2021 through the “reserved places” structure.

Details of all these links between CAO programmes and FE courses are on